WHEN I FIRST started making wine in the early 1980s Chardonnay was planted in lots of places that were too hot. At harvest we crushed the white varieties the same way we do reds. And we fermented in large stainless steel tanks and aged in oak barrels that were often several years old.
By the late 1980s, winemakers started looking to the white wines of Burgundy for inspiration and two things changed. First more Chardonnay was fermented in new oak barrels. Second came an explosion in the number of Chards put through malolactic (ML) fermentation.
I liked the flavors that came with more time in oak, but I wasn't a fan of ML.
At Shafer we re-planted our Chardonnay in Napa Valley's cooler growing area called Los Cameras. Here we harvested fruit that maintained clean acidity. We don't knock that crispness back with malolactic fermentation. Instead we age our Chardonnay on the lees, that is the yeast the caused fermentation, giving it a rich creamy mouthfeel.
Stainless New Era
By the early 2000s winemakers, including myself, began to reintroduce some stainless steel...